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Kuala Lumpur International Jazz Festival: 19-20 May, 2012

Kuala Lumpur International Jazz Festival: 19-20 May, 2012
Ian Patterson By

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KL International Jazz Festival
Kuala Lumpur Convention Center
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
May 19-20, 2012

The 19th and 20th of May, 2012 will long be remembered by jazz lovers in Kuala Lumpur as the day jazz came to town. The 13 acts that performed on the stage of the KL Convention Center made history by inaugurating the KL International Jazz Festival. For those attending, feelings were of pride and a certain sense of relief that, finally, this great Asian metropolis was hosting an international jazz festival. After all, if Penang, Miri and Kota Kinabalu can all stage jazz festivals, then why not the Malaysian capital?

Managing Director Rodin JS Kumar and Executive Chairman Maizon Omar deserve great praise for showing the ambition and the tenacity necessary to pull this event off. Setting the bar high from the start, they pulled out all the stops in bringing the likes of pianists Ahmad Jamal and Hiromi to KL, not to mention tenor great Ernie Watts. Suitably enough in this cosmopolitan city, the festival balanced the best of Western and Asian jazz artists, and acknowledged the importance—both historically and in contemporary terms—of Malaysian jazz musicians from the get go.

Though the large hall was less than packed throughout, the organizers should take heart in the knowledge that mighty oaks from little acorns grow. Most festivals have humble beginnings. The Montreux Jazz Festival has grown from a few thousand spectators in 1967 to over 200,000 today. The Jarasum International Jazz Festival in South Korea almost folded after three editions, with director J.J. In forced to sell his house to meet the festival's debts; in 2011, Jarasum attracted over 170,000 spectators. And the world-famous Glastonbury Festival sold only 1,500 tickets for the first edition in 1970, compared to the 135,000 sold last year.

A shared characteristic amongst organizers of nearly all established festivals is an unerring belief in the music, and the determination to weather any storm. The organizers of KLIJF were already talking about the second edition, and spoke of their vision to establish KLIJF as an annual event of which the city can be proud.

The festival, it has to be said, got off to a somewhat low-key start. The 20-piece Dewan Bandaraya Big Band played a set of melodic numbers that sounded, in the main, like '60s TV series scores. There was undoubtedly some power in the full-ensemble sound, some fine individual playing, and on a couple of numbers the band swung, but it wasn't jazz.

The Dewan Bandaraya (Town Hall) was a major supporter of the inaugural KLIJF, and so there was certainly an argument for its inclusion on the festival program, but perhaps not as the opening act. Any of the other bands would have been better suited to give the jazz festival the flying start which surely everybody desired, and it felt like an opportunity missed.


So, it was the Patrick Terbrack Quintet which really got the ball rolling on day one of the KLIJF, with a passionate performance of original, straight-ahead jazz compositions. Alto saxophonist Terbrack is a mainstay of the KL jazz scene, leading his own quartet and regularly performing with pianist Michael Veerapen and percussionist Steve Thornton. He's also played with drummer Jimmy Cobb, saxophonist Benny Golson and in the Gerald Wilson Big Band in a varied career.

"Standstill," from the leader's debut recording, Invitation (Interscope Digital, 2010), set the tone for what was to follow with its strong melodic contours, inherent swing and fine solos which never overstayed their welcome. Trombonist Marques Young and Terbrack carved beautiful harmonic waves on "Arthresian," with Jonathon Ho's walking bass steering the course. The young Singaporean bassist impressed throughout and is a name for which to watch out Pianist Gabriel Evans and drummer Daryl Irving also took lively solos. Terbrack's lyricism was to the fore on the slower "Phase 2," where he combined beautifully once more with Young.

The spirit of saxophonist John Coltrane's classic quartet infused "Malay's Revenge." Starting from a rhapsodic piano intro, the composition segued into a balladic, solo alto sax segment before a shower of bold piano chords rained down along with bristling drums. Saxophonist and trombonist locked horns in powerful unison lines with the rhythm section driving them on. Though an exciting soloist, Terbrack is a fine composer to boot, as the wonderful, slow finale to this number demonstrated. The alto player's gentle coda was supported deftly by Irving on mallets. The short and funky "On the Spot" took the quintet out in upbeat style and rounded off a classy performance.

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